Monday, March 31, 2008 | The stodgy, stereotypical night at the opera might include a long evening involving several hours of singing, a few intermissions and, quite possibly, a few patrons asleep in their seats. Under those pretenses, it’s difficult to imagine a double bill at the opera.
But two operas, “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliacci,” are traditionally paired together for an evening of entertainment. And San Diego Opera’s beautiful presentation of “Cav” and “Pag” (as they are affectionately nicknamed) stole the hearts of the audience. In fact, it stole San Diego Opera’s season thus far.
“Cav” and “Pag” obviously fit well together. Stylistically they are considered part of the Italian verismo movement: depicting everyday life situations, especially the life of the lower classes. Both operas examine human psychologies and both operate in “real-time” which serves to enhance and amplify the drama. Needless to say, both feature infidelity and crimes of passion.
Pietro Mascagni’s one-act “Cavalleria Rusticana” made quite a sensation on debut and remains his best-known opera. Based in a Sicilian village on Easter morning, the curtain opens on Turiddu as he sings to his lover Lola (New Zealand mezzo-soprano Sarah Castle.) As the sun rises, villagers emerge joyfully from their homes in anticipation of the Easter services. Ominously dark music accompanies Santuzza (American soprano Carter Scott) as she approaches Turiddu’s mother Mamma Lucia (American mezzo-soprano Judith Christin, always a scene-stealer) and begs her for information on the whereabouts of her rogue son. The day ends in scandal and tragedy.
Beautiful, direct music (conducted by Edoardo Müller) underscores the drama that surrounds the simple, direct characters. But there are flickers of darkness in the music; spiking the beauty with haunting sadness. Carter Scott effectively conveyed Santuzza’s agony but she also exhibited her alluring voice. Engaging and lovely, Scott’s voice has power to boot.
Tenor Richard Leech excelled as Turiddu, most notably during his drinking song. His rich voice was crystal clear and inviting-sounding. Leech is a San Diego audience favorite and did not disappoint.